The Celtics came into Philadelphia with high hopes as Joel Embiid was out due to a hand injury. In their previous two match ups this season, Embiid had dominated the Celtics, so it was supposedly a big advantage with him off the floor. Philadelphia does not have the front court depth without Embiid. Even as this weighed heavily in Boston’s favor, they could not take advantage.
Even as Embiid was not on the floor, the Celtics still could not contain the Sixers in the post. The Celtics were outscored 50-38 in points in the paint. It was a strange game with Mike Scott getting the start over Embiid, letting Al Horford play the center position. The Celtics contended against it for the first half. As Celtics fans know, Horford won’t bang bodies in the paint for a full game.
However, it really wasn’t Horford who completely killed the Celtics in the post. That was the job of Ben Simmons who had much more room to work and navigate his way down low. It was at times clinical when the Sixers looked to play Horford around the arc, giving Simmons all the space he needed to back down a smaller player into the post.
The interior defense was definitely a tale of two halves. The Celtics started out holding their own with Enes Kanter getting quality minutes when Daniel Theis left early with two quick fouls. As CelticsBlog own Keith Smith pointed out, there was an almost reverse box-and-one going on around Kanter on defense. Everyone was switching around him, and then he just grabbed whoever was in the paint. It is a much simpler concept for a defender like Kanter (and Tacko Fall the game before) to handle because of his troubles switching on the pick-and-roll. This defensive scheme was intriguing to see used against this Sixers team.
Last night when Tacko Fall played, the Celtics let him float and cover the player closest to the basket.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 10, 2020
They just used a similar strategy on a few possessions with Kanter in the game. Everyone switched around him and he just grabbed whoever was in/around the paint.
While the Celtics built their lead, they also did a good job of denying entry into the paint, switching over and over again and standing in the way of cutting wings who tried to get into free space. The Celtics clogged the paint and made it hard for the wings to get up a shot around the basket.
Both Theis and Kemba Walker knew where Simmons was going on that drive. It was a smart move to slow him down with a full head of steam. Unfortunately, that interior defense could not roll over into the second half.
After leading the game by seven at halftime, the Sixers took over this game right out of halftime. Their pace picked up, and they started getting transition buckets which the Celtics had no answer for. In the third quarter, the Sixers outscored the Celtics in the paint 20-2. The interior defense completely went away as Philadelphia started hammering the ball down low.
These two clips show the differences in the first and second half. The game plan was to help over and deny any bodies that came into the paint. Kanter perfectly executed this early, disrupting Simmons path to the basket making him give up with a long jump shot.
Contrast that with a tad bit different play, but one that should have the same mind set. Theis in this one, however, did not help Semi Ojeleye in time to impact the Simmons’ layup. He was by himself and just needed to use his length for an easy two.
The Celtics leave Philadelphia with their first three-game slide of the season. It once again had head coach Brad Stevens and this roster scratching their heads at how to beat this Sixers team. They will most likely have to face them down the road, and the match ups so far this season have been proven that the series will not go well for the Celtics. This was the game they could change the narrative a bit with Embiid out, but it looked as if the Sixers played more up-tempo with fast break points leading the way in the second half. To beat this team, it will come with strong interior defense. Kanter, Theis, and Grant Williams will have to figure out a solution to clog the paint against the Sixers. Without any changes, the Celtics will look to be in a lot of trouble against this team down the road.